Simple preparation lets quality ingredients shine in Steaks with Blue Cheese. Recipe of sorts below.
We had our friends Karin and Dick over for dinner for the first time last weekend. As we started talking about what to serve, my first thought was to mine the Blue Kitchen archives. Then Marion told me that Karin had said they’ve cooked everything we’ve posted on Blue Kitchen. My first reaction probably should have been feeling flattered. Instead it was this: “Dang.”
We got busy looking through cookbooks and back issues of Bon Appétit and Gourmet. We started prowling the Internet. And the more we bandied ideas back and forth, the more complex things seemed to get. And then it hit me. What about some nice little steaks pan seared and topped with really good blue cheese? Done.
Suddenly, everything got simpler in a very good way. For sides, some hand mashed potatoes with buttermilk and a salad of mixed greens and arugula. Some cheese and olives to start and a delicious, rustic apple galette [that will inspire its own post one of these days] for dessert. The conversation flowed like wine. So did the wine. And a simply beautiful evening was had by all [unless Dick and Karin were lying to spare our feelings].
Nowhere to hide. Regular readers know that I tend to take a minimalist approach in the kitchen. This recipe is stripped down, even by my standards. When you work with just a few ingredients, every one has to pull its weight. For the beef, I went with small filet mignons. They’re not as big flavored as some cuts—New York Strip, for instance—but they’re melt-in-your-mouth tender and generally thick enough to stay pink inside, even when nicely charred on the outside. Besides, the blue cheese would be bringing plenty of flavor to the table and would play nicely with the more subtle meatiness of filet mignon.
The cheesemongers’ choice. My first thought on blue cheese was to go with the delicious, Iowa-produced Maytag Blue I’d fallen hard for when I recreated the Endive Salad with Blue Cheese and Walnuts we discovered at the so-very-French bistro Lucien in New York. But it felt a little too firm to the touch [which is precisely what I liked about it for the salad]. I wanted something that would soften just slightly when it came in contact with the hot steak. So I asked one of the cheesemongers at Whole Foods for a recommendation, telling him how I planned to use it. He told me he was a vegetarian, but showed me a cheese all his meat-eating colleagues swore by. Then he pointed me to his boss for a second opinion. The rapturous look on the second man’s face was all the confirmation I needed.
So what was this mythic cheese? King Island Dairy’s Roaring 40s Blue Cheese, from an island just south of Melbourne, Australia. The 40s in question aren’t an era; they’re ferocious westerly winds that blow along the 40°S Latitude and have caused countless shipwrecks on the island’s rocky shoreline. Legend has it that straw mattresses washed ashore from shipwrecks anywhere from the 15th to the 18th centuries [depending on who's telling the tale] sowed the seeds that became the pastures cows have grazed on for more than a century now. Wait. It gets better. Occasionally, these same fierce winds whip up storms that deposit kelp on the shore, which the cows also graze upon. The result of this diet, pretty much everyone agrees, is that “The cows are reputed to produce the sweetest milk in the land.”
So. Some nice steaks and some truly transcendent blue cheese. What more do you need? A hot pan and precious little more. The whole process is so simple, I almost hesitate to call it a recipe.
Steaks with Blue Cheese
4 4- to 6-ounce filet mignons [see Kitchen Notes]
4 tablespoons [more or less] quality blue cheese [see Kitchen Notes]
salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
About 1/2 hour before you’re ready to cook the steaks, take them and the blue cheese out of the fridge to lose a bit of their chill [if it's summer where you are and your air conditioning is on the fritz, you might skip this step to be on the safe side].
Heat a large, heavy skillet over a high flame. Pat steaks dry with paper towels and season both sides generously with salt and pepper. When pan is hot, add oil and butter and swirl pan to combine and coat the pan. Add steaks and cook until nicely charred on one side, about 4 minutes. Turn steaks and reduce heat to medium [the hot pan will still char the bottom, but as the pan cools slightly, the cooking will slow]. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes on the second side for medium rare, then transfer to a serving platter. Mound about 1 tablespoon of blue cheese on each steak. Bring the platter to the table and carefully transfer steaks to individual plates with tongs. You can also plate the steaks in the kitchen.
Choosing your steaks. Again, I picked filet mignons as much for their thickness [about 1-1/2 inches] as for their flavor. New York strips would also work well, but if the cut is thinner, reduce cooking time on the second side. Please don’t overcook them and please do season generously with salt and pepper. Come on, you’re topping this thing with cheese. Just admit going in that this won’t be the healthiest thing you put in your body all week and enjoy it thoroughly. Eating well is all about balance.
So how good was the Roaring 40s Blue? It was pretty damned amazing. But any quality blue cheese would be delicious in this application. As you can see from the photo, it doesn’t melt on the steak, but it does soften up; you can kind of moosh it around a bit on the top of the steak with your fork to make sure you get some with every bite.
A few more steak recipes. Just before deciding on these steaks—both for company and for this post—I read an entertaining post on someone else’s blog. [I'm embarrassed to say I can't remember where, but it was someone new to me—if you recognize her, please speak up.] She’s always been someone for whom steak meant reaching for the A1 Sauce. For her birthday, her husband grilled some exquisite and expensive steaks on the condition that she skip the A1. She became an immediate convert to sauce-free steaks. And I wholeheartedly agreed… except for my Pan Seared Steaks with Chimichurri Sauce. And except for Curried Steaks with Black-eyed Pea Salsa. Oh, and my Bistro Steaks with Red Wine Reduction. Okay, so I guess I’m not such a purist after all.